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Destined: Podcast Transcript

Omisade Burney-Scott
I first learned about astrology in the 1970s. Between the R&B groups Earth Wind and Fire and The Floaters, with their classic song "Float On," I knew it meant something to be able to say — with confidence — that I was an Aries.

In our home, small decorative wall hangings identify my parents as Cancers in gold writing. In the basement, my older brother also had a giant black velvet poster that always held the attention of my 8-year-old mind with its glow-in-the-dark depictions of each astrological sign and expressions of intimate connection. I even owned a glitter graphic tee with "Aries" written on it that matched my rollerskate pom poms. The shirt listed Aries characteristics like adventurous, natural born leader, gregarious and headstrong. And after looking up the word gregarious, my pre-pubescent self decided that those bedazzled traits made for a pretty accurate description.

But it was the Cosmopolitan magazine annual bedside astrologer that marked the beginning of me being in a deeper ritual with astrology. Each December throughout high school and most of college, my cousin Cheyanne and I would rush to the drugstore to purchase our Cosmo, flip to the middle and tear out the pages that offered insights into our sun signs, who we were romantically compatible with and our horoscope forecasts for each month of the upcoming year. The curiosity that was sparked by the Cosmo deepened with a book called "The Only Astrology Book You Will Ever Need" — literally that is the name of the book. Along with my first natal chart over 25 years ago, this book pushed me into further exploring what the cosmos has to say about who I am and my destiny this lifetime.

This is Embodied. I'm Omisade Burney-Scott, Aries sun, Leo moon and Virgo rising, today's guest host and the regular host of "The Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause." And look, I'm not here to tell you that astrology is the be-all-end-all when it comes to our identities, destinies or compatibility with others. Like any other spiritual practice, astrology is a tool we can use to reflect on our gifts and growth edges, the way we show up in relationships and the way we treat ourselves and others with more compassion. In other words, astrology can inform our interactions and experiences, but shouldn't be allowed to drive them. We asked you how you interact with astrology, and you proved that there are many ways to interpret and play with this way of thinking about the world.

Emalydia
I am a Pisces — a March Pisces. And one of the things I really love about being a Pisces is our ability to care and, just, to like feel feelings. I love that. I love, you know, getting — getting into those like, I don't know, deeper conversations, or you can talk about those kinds of emotions and build those connections. I think that's really great and important. A lot of people think Pisces are just emotional, when I think it's just that we enjoy feeling things very deeply. Does that mean we're going to cry sometimes? Or often? Yeah, I do like to cry, and that is okay.

Angel
My Aquarius identity helps give structure to the vastness, or the boundlessness. My mother, Diane Dozier, had astrology plaques on our living room wall for all six of us. And over time, that foundation has helped me to develop this embodied frame of reference. And I do believe that that's what helps us to shape change and actually change our world.

Brianna
I found astrology in the back of the magazines in my mom's salon, and in books at the library as a kid. I probably populated my first birth chart when I was 18, maybe 20. And just felt super relieved and intrigued in how the messaging lent me an opportunity to feel seen and understood in a way that I had never really experienced. I love astrology, I use it to support my intuition, to help me navigate intimate challenges and to support my aspirations — like, help me be informed and how I want to move in the world.

Omisade Burney-Scott
You just heard from listeners Emalydia, Angel and Brianna. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are seeking insights about what makes us tick in a particular way. For me, astrology provides additional puzzle pieces from the cosmos, in service of that deeper understanding of who I am, what I need emotionally, how I communicate or process communication, how I fight, love and heal. As my cousin Cheyanne Headen will tell you, my fiery Aries horns have receded somewhat over the years. But they still show up, especially when I'm feeling protective of something or someone I love. And luckily, her diplomatic Libra nature is still there to help balance me out.

Cheyanne Headen
My mother had all manner of things in the library — tarot cards, astrology books — you know, she was definitely that person. So that's probably, I'd say, my very first introduction. I don't remember not knowing that I was a Libra.

Omisade Burney-Scott
The Bedside Astrologer was such a big part of our relationship growing up, and the "year ahead forecasts" that would offer information about our career, and compatibility, and romance and money. Which of these topics do you feel like you remember being most interested in? I have an idea of what that probably was.

Cheyanne Headen
Of course, it was the romantic. Who we were compatible with romantically — that was the biggest thing.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Yeah, that was a big deal. Like, who's our crush? And should we be crushing on them or not?

Cheyanne Headen
Correct. As though that was the Bible, you know what I mean? Like, oh, no, I can't — I can't possibly date him.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Astrology was a big part of our relationship when we were growing up. And while the ways we engage with it have changed over the years, it's still a tool we both use to reflect on our relationships, as well as the strengths that we bring to our careers. Libras care deeply about justice, fairness and harmony. And all of those things are key in Cheyanne's work as a community and de-escalation specialist.

Cheyanne Headen
Definitely in my role, you know, we're dealing with folks on a really grassroots level — marginalized communities and populations. And so, folks are really hungry. And with that comes a lot of stuff: a lot of behaviors, a lot of anxiety, a lot of emotions. And it's so important to me, in my role, to make sure that every single person I have an encounter with feels seen, you know, and feels valued.

Omisade Burney-Scott
That's a part of the diplomacy that I see you use so often, and you've used with me, and used in our relationships, you know. And I — I see that playing out in your work. But I also see that playing out as a mom. And we're both parents now, so, you know, I think astrology has influenced the way we understand our kids. You know me, the Aries mom with a Pisces son and a Libra son. And you with Zachary, who's a teenager and a Sag.

Cheyanne Headen
Good Lord, yes.

Omisade Burney-Scott
So how has astrology helped you understand and, kind of, guide him during those already fiery adolescent years?

Cheyanne Headen
Well — and I can actually say that you being in my life in the capacity in which, as close as we've always been, all the fire you come with helps me understand him as a parent. And because he shows up very differently than I ever did, and sometimes a little — I'm a little taken aback. Like, I'm like, could you have a little bit more tact?

Omisade Burney-Scott
You know, actually, he can't. But I do see the way in which you offer him an option of how he can be truthful about what he's expressing, but also be mindful of that — which is, to me, is very quintessential Libra. And then, what I offer him as his Aries Auntie is like, remember who your mother is. Right? Right. Which is what you offer to my boys around who they are, as having an Aries mom, correct?

Cheyanne Headen
Yeah, correct.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Yeah, I appreciate that.

Cheyanne Headen
Yeah, the diplomacy is — it's a big part of who I am. And honestly, if I — if I'm going to be fully transparent, sometimes to a fault. You never want to show up in a way that — or I never want to show up in a way, and most people, I assume — in a way that is less than gracious, or not kind. But there's some times when you just have to be able to, just, say cut it, the jig is up. The jig is up, let's stop. I've spent a lot of my life putting a lot of time and effort into always being gracious. I'm still gracious, but I think part of that is just the age that we are, you know, once you're on the other side of 50...

Omisade Burney-Scott
It's a different ballgame. Yeah, to be sure. Well, you know, something I really appreciate that you do with Zach is that you all volunteer together. Which is such a beautiful thing. And I know that you're making sure that he's engaging with people in the community who might hold different identities that he does. And what do you think astrology offers us in terms of how we show up for the community, or in social justice work?

Cheyanne Headen
Oh, wow. Um, sort of the same thing I would say that, you know, that we just touched on. In social justice work — or community work, or advocacy and all of those kinds of things — again, you have to be mindful of the people that you are providing service for, you know, and you have to understand their experiences and, and why they show up the way they show up, and why they move the way they move. And so, I definitely think that astrology and our astrological signs have been really helpful in guiding us in those really important interactions that we have with the community that we serve.

Omisade Burney-Scott
A lot of folks use astrology as a tool for deeper self understanding, which was what first interested Zacchary Powell in this practice. Zacc is a Black queer astrologer, and the former president of the Association for Young Astrologers, who looked to astrology as a constant in a time in his life that was otherwise marked by a lot of change.

Zacchary Powell
Astrology is so beautiful in working to understand yourself and the world around you. And I, I came to astrology actually late in my life, at a moment where I felt really broken and didn't know where I was going or what I was going to do. And I felt kind of lost, I felt like I was being a person for the purpose of other people enjoying me, or something like that. And at that time, I was really interested in personality tests. And so — but one thing that's limiting about personality tests is that it's self-identified. And so for me, astrology became — I stumbled upon astrology, in the more complex way of seeing your birth chart. And it really opened up this ability to see this chart and say, okay, I'm going to embody this as much as I possibly can. Because, I wanted to, like, shed this people-pleasing nature and wanted to become fully who I am without the impact of other people on who I am — that felt really restrictive. And so, I came to it that way, and then just, kind of, never stopped, like I just went so hard into it.

I think one of the beautiful things about astrology is — and as a consulting astrologer — being able to say, notice difficult placements in one's chart and say, "That must have been really difficult." And how validating that is when we have difficult experiences in our lives that's reflected in our chart, right? That those possibilities are there. And so, how you can help people and yourself in the journey of discovering your needs and your desires. And — and how you can help to bring out your strengths and know things that are, that are your weaknesses, or difficulties and, kind of, move through the world in the way you want to.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Right, it's really potent to be able to offer someone a nonjudgmental affirmation of both light and shadow. So you identify as a Black queer astrologer, and I'm really curious about — what are some of the points of intersection between the identities that you hold, and your spiritual practice that you've — you've leaned into?

Zacchary Powell
Yeah, I mean, I think being a queer person lends itself to asking more complex questions about who you are and how you can show up in the world. And I think being queer then therefore means, right, like, for example, questioning, kind of, expressions of gender and sexuality. And then looking at the chart, you know, what does it mean for a masc person to have a really beautifully dignified Venus placement? You know, the one thing that — one of the readings that I do is focus on Venus, because she's so important to me, in my life and in my chart. And it's just really beautiful talking to masc people and masc-presenting people, trans masc people, who are wanting to explore Venus, and but, the nervousness of like, well, I'm not really a feminine person. That's not how I show up in the world. And we have these beautiful discussions about Venus, you know. Of course, in these, you know, white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial world that we live in, many times we — we feel that it needs to be a binary, but the beautiful thing the way that Venus shows up, Aphrodite shows up in our lives, is an expression, or an understanding, a movement through desire, and joy, and play, and comfort, indulgence. And I think that just brings in a much more complicated, nuanced understanding of our lives that allows us to not get, like, steeped in those kinds of certain binaries. And so I think the queerness certainly brings in the — in the more complex discussion and complex questions that can be reflected in our birth chart. But some folks might not always be able to have access to expressing themselves in that way, and I think that that's what I really love to do in readings, is help people become their truest self.

And I think, you know, being a Black person, it really was — really been beautiful, showing up and doing this work and, kind of, having it expand into more magical practices too. And specifically, focusing sometimes on, well, astrological magic, but also too like, hoodoo and ancestral practices, and how much that knowledge has opened my mind to the fact that, you know, of course, indigenous cultures and cultures all around the world have star lore, right? This is the work many people of color have been doing for millennia — millennia. Yeah, it feels like a return back to myself and my ancestry doing astrological work.

Omisade Burney-Scott
That feels so important, and I know that you are the former president of the Association for Young Astrologers. And I'm wondering if some of the goals of AYA are to address some of those things where we can see the complementary, or the connective tissue, between different practices like astrology and tarot, and hoodoo and things like that?

Zacchary Powell
Yes, yes, absolutely. And I think, you know, I was the first Black president of AYA. And, you know, I was so proud to be able to cultivate this board of people that was majority people of color, actually majority Black — majority women and femmes. And it was a powerful way to ensure that institutions that maybe have traditionally been more white, or more cis het, were able to — it was majority queer, majority femme, majority Black board. That was just the first time that's happened. And it was so powerful, just, bring these really talented people together, and provide that diverse, nuanced space. To be able to then address those issues in our — in our culture, in our field, and in the world, and allow people to feel more seen. And to provide resources to various projects by people of color, that they were doing in the astrological world and provide resources and money.

And one key thing that I was when I was president that was so important to me, is getting people paid. I wanted — I wanted like Black, brown and queer people to be paid for the work that they were doing. To be seen, and to be paid. One thing that I kept on repeating was: pay is an ethics issue. Like, in the world we're in, like, experience is not payment. Like we need, we need actual dollars, we need to pay rent.

Omisade Burney-Scott
That's right, that's right.

Katherin
When I was younger, I was a little ashamed of believing in astrology — as if it's something to believe in. It's like believing in the stars, sun and moon. But as I grew older, I became more confident in understanding that it is literally the stars, sun and moon.

Rebecca
Letting astrology be something that is fluid and, like, using it for you when it works for you is kind of where I'm at now. I've definitely used it a lot more prescriptively, especially in the queer dating scene. And would, like, look up people's signs and really think about compatibility, because it was a way to understand queer, kind of, dynamics and relationships that I might not have had a script for before.

Emalydia
I've always been super into getting my chart read and talking with friends who are also super into it. I love memes, so astrology memes are like my favorite. I love reading those and sharing those, even though they can be kind of like broad, they can be kind of fun too at the same time.

Mariah
I'm currently in my Saturn Return, which for the folks who are not the astrology-heads, essentially means the planet Saturn is in the same place it was during my time of birth. Saturn is a period of deep transformation and reflection — essentially supposed to be the time of the universe asking myself, did I learned the lessons thus far that I've experienced in life and if not, it's time to relearn them.

Omisade Burney-Scott
You just heard from listeners Katherin, Rebecca, Emalydia and Mariah. Astrology can provide a framework for a deeper understanding of self. It can also help people think more deeply about the relationships in their lives. But it's also a way to look at systems, and how we show up as citizens and activists.

Jessica Lanyadoo
For me, being able to use astrology as a framework to read and, you know, understand various cultures, classes, lived experiences, it was always important to me — it was always a drive for me.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Meet Jessica Lanyadoo. She's an astrologer and the host of "Ghost of a Podcast." She helps folks one-on-one, but a lot of her work centers on astrology's applications to politics and social justice. Some of that comes out in her social media posts and in the get-out-the-vote organization she co-founded called Zodiac The Vote.

Jessica Lanyadoo
I worked for many years in various social working, direct care capacity. And through that, I learn more about people who are different from me, and also nonverbal communication, right? And how to meet people where they're at. The thing about astrology that can get sticky, is that it's very analytic. And it's also a spiritual tool, but it's analytic — it is very mathy. Right, and it can be quite prescriptive. And so, one of the things that's really important to me is, using it as a tool for helping people to cultivate emotional intelligence. And that requires that we start wherever you're at. And I don't try to project my ideas about, like, what an Aries should be, or you know. Instead I really listen to where you're at, and then use the birth chart as a reference for supporting you in being healthy, happy, whole, whatever it is — you know, surviving. And I would also say that over the many years of my career, it's evolved. What I do and how I do it has evolved for many reasons. And certainly, on my podcast, because it's a one-on-many instead of a one-on-one resource, I can talk more about politics and issues of social justice, because I'm not just counseling an individual, right? So yeah.

Omisade Burney-Scott
That's one of the things that attracted me to you, actually, when I found your platform is that, you not only, kind of, give us what we need in terms of what's happening astrologically, or in the cosmos, but that is also undergirded with social justice and political activism. And I really would like for you to share a little bit more about Zodiac the Vote, and the relationship you see between astrology and either social justice or civic engagement. And what are some of the ways that folk can use astrology to inform their activism the way that you have?

Jessica Lanyadoo
So one thing I'll say is, you know, I don't think I could do the work I do around social activism and civic engagement at the level that I hope that I'm doing it if I didn't have as many years of consulting one-on-one experience. And that's because it has allowed me to develop my skills as an astrologer who is human-centered. I am a humanistic astrologer. And having a human-centered approach with astrology, has really helped me to understand the world — social issues and political issues. And I in fact, started "Ghost of a Podcast" specifically because I saw what was coming. In terms of the political issues, also in terms of the health issues that we're dealing with — the pandemic. And I wanted to create a resource to support people in having the emotional intelligence, the wherewithal, to do the right thing when it's hard to do. To do the right thing, whether someone's looking or not, and whether it's easy or not.

And that — that process of doing "Ghost of a Podcast" ended up introducing me to really wonderful people, one of which I co-founded Zodiac The Vote with. And it was a tool for motivating people who will spend countless hours studying their crush's birth chart or their crush's sun sign, but not figure out who's running for office in their town, will not vote because it's too complicated. And I wanted to really appeal to those people. I also wanted to appeal to people who are underrepresented, or simply have really great reasons for not trusting in the system, you know. And to engage with them around our criticisms of the system, and hopefully, motivate them to participate in all the ways — and for me, that includes voting, and hence, you know, Zodiac The Vote was born. And it's, it's something that I really loved doing. And it really surprised me, because it never occurred to me that an astrologer could have any kind of voice in social or political movements, but times have changed.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Times have changed, and so have the ways that we've engaged with astrology. Jessica has been a practitioner since the 90s, so she's had a front row seat to how access has evolved.

Jessica Lanyadoo
I've seen, through the internet and through the popularization of astrology, which is in part about brands needing clickbait, brands needing people to return to their site, or their social media page routinely — and astrology is a great reason for that. So I'm not an idealist, right? I definitely understand that there's a lot of reasons why there's, like, so much access to astrology right now. But it used to be that people would only have horoscopes in magazines or newspapers, and they would either have to be really interested and motivated, or they really didn't know much. People would say, oh, you're an astrologer? Read my palm, or, like, tell me what number I'm thinking of. Like, they didn't know what astrology was. It was just all in this esoteric bucket for most people. And I say that as a person who's lived in the San Francisco Bay area since the mid 90s, which is a very, like, astrology literate place.

But since the internet and, you know, the meme-ification of astrology, but also, since we've had so much more access to self-publish, and have people, you know, we don't have to wait for a seat at the table anymore. We can just, you know, put out our own blog, put out our own posts, and like-minded people will come. That has been amazing, because I think it's made astrology much better. I think it's made astrology much more accessible. And there's also, you know, the expected simplification of astrology that has happened, which I think is a bit dangerous, if I'm being honest.

Omisade Burney-Scott
No, that's really good to lift up. It's kind of confusing sometimes, when you see the memes, you're not sure if you're looking at something that has any kind of substance — if you should pay particular attention to it. And, Zacc, I know that you have shared that there's some controversy around these astro memes, and how it tends to relate to some way of a lack of accuracy for the signs and how they're portrayed. What do you see as the purpose of these astrology memes? And how does accuracy fit into that?

Zacchary Powell
You know, I think like Jessica, I am very Saturnian. And particularly the space in my chart that rules things like, astrology and spiritual practices is ruled by Saturn for me. And so I am deeply serious. I go really long, I, you know, people have said, why haven't you done a class yet? I'm like, because I want to do the work. I want more time. But not everyone has to approach astrology in that way. I feel like it's beautiful that it's growing and becoming bigger for young people and more accessible. It doesn't always have to be serious. And I think there is some, kind of — certainly comes some controversy with certain apps that have not always been accurate in their description, or not really having the goal to provide accurate information. And I think that's — but, you know, they've shifted and moved because of people in the astrological community asking them and pushing them to. So I think it's twofold. I am definitely a person who promotes the idea of increased accuracy, an increased access to good and reliable astrological information. But also, let people have fun, you know, like the world is — we're going through such a difficult time that, like, it's sometimes fine to just allow people to experience some ease. And it not — and it just be funny memes on the internet.

Omisade Burney-Scott
In some practices of astrology, like the ancient Greco-Roman approach known as Hellenistic astrology, there's an overemphasis on the gender binary. But Zacc says we can gain so much if we can open ourselves up to the nuances in the stars.

Zacchary Powell
You know, as a person who has two major angular planets that are traditionally seen as masculine or feminine — being Venus and Mars — they're both deeply prominent for me. And so, I'm definitely a genderqueer person, I oscillate between different expressions of either femininity or masculinity. And I think being queer allows us the ability to ask deeper questions about gender, and how it represents in our chart. There are beautiful things that young people, and even more experienced astrologers, are doing around deconstructing what's in traditional texts. And how to, kind of, see it as more complicated than simply a binary. And that, that work, and — I think is still ongoing, and I think is really beautiful. And I'm excited to see where that continues to go, because I think even in, you know, readings that I've done people's, kind of, connection to what Venus means or what Mars means, when we expand it and allow it to be seen.

You know, one person I know I had a reading with that had a really prominent Mars, and they wanted to access Venus with regard to pleasure and joy. And what I was, kind of, seeing was that the Mars placement was so overwhelming that they couldn't access a lot of that pleasure and ease. And so, we talked about engaging in a martial practice, and so they picked up blacksmithing. And they found that their creativity, their access to joy, their access to play and rest, came out of expressing that Mars, so that they could then do the other. Kind of, we only ask those questions more often, when we are questioning the systems that we're in and that we're reading about.

Omisade Burney-Scott
Of course, I love that so much. Jessica, you know, you shared that you had a similar entry point into astrology that my cousin and I had. You know, because we are kind of the OGs in this conversation, I believe. And I know that one of the contexts is that, people tend to look to astrology to understand better romantic and sexual compatibility. And I'm thinking that there are some ways that you might be able to help us think about what are some good starting points for thinking about romantic compatibility or even partnership?

Jessica Lanyadoo
Hmm, you know, there's two things I want to say. The first one is, astrology is a remarkable tool for empathy, self-understanding, understanding others. That's also a tool for pathologizing yourself, or pathologizing others. And so, you know, rushing — which every teenager or, like, somebody who's brand new to astrology — rushing to be like, you know, I'm a Capricorn, who should I date, is very normal. But it's not especially helpful because it's much more complex. When we are cultivating intimacy with other people, with ourselves — whether it's sexual or romantic intimacy — ultimately, we must stay in relationship with ourselves. When we are fixated on the other person's birth chart, or what the other person is or isn't doing, then we're not staying present with ourselves. What am I consenting to? How am I participating? Is this making me happy? Am I not happy? The cultivation of self-awareness and presence with whatever it is that's happening is something that we can do through our own birth charts, through our own spiritual, psychological and other practices. And that, to me, is foundational to being in healthy, functional, sexual and romantic dynamics with other people. And I am a little allergic to astrology being too prescriptive around gender, sexuality, around anything, really.

Omisade Burney-Scott
If you're listening and looking for a way to get into astrology, Jessica says is not a one-size-fits-all kind of practice. And she has some questions you can ask yourself as you explore.

Jessica Lanyadoo
Do you really want to do the math? Oh, you know, do you really want to develop a deep knowledge? Or, are you just trying to find a resource that can, kind of, give you the quickest, easiest answers? And both of those things are valid. If you're going in the latter direction where you're like, yeah, it's not my life's work, I just want to know more stuff, find a form of astrology that resonates with you by finding an astrologer that resonates with you. And once you find an astrologer that you're learning from, find out what kinds of astrology they practice. And try not to mix and match different kinds of astrology without awareness that you're doing so.

Omisade Burney-Scott
My advice? Remember that learning about astrology, or developing an astrological practice, is a question of personal choice and may not be for everybody. If you should decide to dabble to see what information the stars have to offer you about yourself, career and relationships, keep in mind it is a cosmic roadmap, but you are in the driver's seat.

Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast and WUNC's other shows on demand, consider a contribution at wunc.org now. Incredible storytelling like you heard on Embodied is only possible because of listeners like you.

This episode was produced by Audrey Smith, who is a Libra, Amanda Magnus who is a Taurus. Capricorn Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer, and Sagittarius Quilla wrote our theme music.

If you enjoyed the show, share about it on social media and tag us with the handle @embodiedwunc. It helps new folks find the show, and it means so much.

I'm Omisade Burney-Scott, filling in for Anita Rao. If you need something to listen to next, you can check out my podcast, "The Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause." And I'll be back to host another episode in the fall, so stay tuned.

Until next time, thanks for listening to Embodied.

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